“Breaking Bad” writer Moira Walley-Beckett je·tés into the dark side of ballet in “Flesh and Blood.” The gritty, eight-episode series, which is the brainchild of the Emmy-Award winning writer, airing starting tonight, Sunday, November 8, on Starz.
“Flesh and Bone” centers on the story of aspiring ballerina Claire Robbins (Sarah Hay), a beautiful woman with a troubled past and a creepy, clingy brother, played by Josh Helman (X-Man’s “Days of Future Past” and the upcoming “Apocalypse.”) Claire is hungry, talented, vulnerable and driven. But to make her dream come true she first has to impress the megalomaniacal, artistic director of the fictitious American Ballet Theater, Paul Grayson, played by Ben Daniels with dripping sarcasm and enough camp to give the show its much needed laughs.
The show’s gimmick and strength is that the dancers in the cast are actually dancers. They include Irina Dvorovenko, Raychel Weiner, Emily Tyra and Sascha Radetsky, all dancers with major companies. Rounding out the cast are Damon Herriman (“Justified), Tina Benko, Vanessa Aspillaga and New York theater veterans Patrick Page and Tovah Feldshuh.
Walley-Beckett, the cast, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht, and producers John Melfi, Lawrence Bender and Kevin Kelly Brown, attended the splashy premiere of “Flesh and Bone” Monday at the Skirball Center for the Arts in Manhattan.
Also on the red carpet, Riley Keough, granddaughter of Elvis Presley, and her husband Ben Smith-Petersen, a stuntman she met while filming “Mad Max: Fury Road,” came out to support the show. Keough, who looks like her beautiful grandmother Priscilla, will star as a high-end call girl in the Steven Soderberg-produced show, “The Girlfriend Series,” which will air next year on Starz.
I also spotted ABT principal Misty Copeland at the pre-screening reception.
On the red carpet, I spoke to the star, Sarah Hay, who danced most recently in the Semperoper Ballet in Germany. Hay, who is making her acting debut, told me she only read the first episode when she signed up to do the show. Those early scenes include her walking in on her roommate having noisy sex and a phone conversation with creepy, clingy brother who is masturbating.
“I didn’t know what my character’s path was going to be exactly,” Hay told me, “but as far the grittiness and the drama, I was kind of excited about it. It’s a bit of a challenge for me.”
After 25 years as a dancer she told me she thought she was ready to give it up. “I would love to do more acting. I’m just kind of waiting to see what happens.”
Irina Dvorovenko, who trained at the Kiev Ballet School and retired several years ago as a principal dancer with ABT, plays a drug-addled diva in the show. She told me her audition called for her to sniff cocaine. “That was really hilariously funny,” she said. “I went to the audition and I say, ‘How am I supposed to do this?’ I had no idea and my husband was making fun of me.” (She is married to Maxim Beloserkovsky, also a ballet dancer.)
I asked if she missed performing. “No, actually. I’m more elated and hungry for acting,” she told me. Also, “I get to eat now,” she said, although in her bandage dress she still appeared to have zero body fat.
As for shooting “Flesh and Bone,” she told me, “I enjoyed it so much. I’m hungry. I want more.” She hopes Starz will reconsider the limited run. “Let it start, let it run, then I think we’ll see how it does.”
But the real star of the evening was the charismatic and brainy Walley-Beckett, who has brought her own dark, imaginative twist to ballet, which she studied growing up in Vancouver, Canada. She still attends ballet classes in Los Angeles, where she currently lives.
In her introductory remarks before the screening, and before a performance by American Ballet Theater dancers Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside, Walley-Beckett told the audience, “This has been an epic adventure and it’s also a very personal story and there were many times when I would stand on the set and look around and take everything in and say to myself, ‘What the hell was I thinking? This can’t be done. We’re all going to die here.’ But we prevailed,” she said. “The cast and the crew, my angels – the dancers – showed up, delivered, nailed it, and stuck behind me, and that is dance.”
“Flesh and Bone” is the first Starz series to premiere on a Sunday night, which Walley-Beckett told me on the red carpet, was a testament to how strongly the network felt about the show. Limited to an eight-episode run, it was initially conceived as an ongoing series. I asked Walley-Beckett what were the chances they would extend the series or do a two-hour movie?
“It’s a limited series right now, and there’s something I love about that. It’s going to be like this shooting star clasped into our consciousness and then disappears forever.”
And if Starz ordered another round of episodes or wanted to make a two-hour movie? “It’s a tall order because these are dancers dancing, performing their craft, and there’s a limited shelf life there and they can’t do it forever, so this was our moment.”
She already has two new projects in the works she wouldn’t discuss.
I told Walley-Beckett all the dancers on the red carpet told me they hoped Starz would add more episodes. She said, “I know they do, poor things.”
photo c2015 Showbiz411 by Paula Schwartz